BAGHDAD – A smiling burka-clad Shi'ite woman gave a big thumbs-up to the US
forces she passed as she walked along the road in southern Baghdad, dragging
a bathtub she had just looted.
'Go Bush! Yes America!' she called out.
Thousands upon thousands of Iraqi civilians took to the streets of Baghdad
yesterday, smiling and waving at US forces as they looted government and
military warehouses. By nightfall the soldiers in the 3rd Infantry Division
had poised to make their final linkup in north-central Baghdad along both
sides of the Tigris River, thus completing the occupation of the Iraqi
All over the city from north to south and east to west, civilians, who had
largely remained at home over the past week since US ground forces began
their push toward Baghdad, took to the streets. Wednesday morning there were
reports that anti-regime forces in Saddam City in central Baghdad hanged
Baath Party officers from a bridge on the Tigris river.
The Iraqi Army's 10th Brigade surrendered en masse to marines in
northeastern Baghdad Wednesday morning.
Citizens looted warehouses throughout the city, unabashedly carrying away as
much as they could by any means available. In southern Baghdad a donkey
collapsed under the weight of a cart of goods taken from a government
warehouse. Children and mothers dragged porcelain bathtubs through the
streets. Men stole vehicles, including heavy trucks. Many vehicles had empty
gas tanks and were pushed down the street filled with bananas, screws,
rivets, shower heads, and garbage cans.
One warehouse was stripped. Civilians set it on fire, causing a thick cloud
of black smoke to billow up to the sky.
Civilians approached US forces with cigarettes, pita bread, and bananas. The
Iraqis called out, 'No Saddam!' and 'Go Bush!' as they waved and smiled at
the soldiers. In the center of the city civilians ran to embrace marines and
3rd Infantry Division forces.
Pictures of Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, which aside from Iraqi date palm
trees are the most prominent feature of the Iraqi landscape, were torn down
from billboards, traffic circles, and public squares by jubilant mobs.
'This Iraqi came up and gave me this flower,' said Sgt. Gavin Hale as he
patted a rose on his ceramic vest. 'I also got about 40 cigarettes,' he
added with a bemused smile. Similar stories abounded.
'Although no one wants to say it outright,' said Battalion Commander
Lt.-Col. Scott Rutter, 'today was the beginning of the transition from
Saddam's regime to the new government.'
Because there is, to date, no transition government to speak of, Wednesday
was completely anarchic. The cheering crowds were far from unanimous
regarding their thoughts on US forces. 'We are glad that Saddam is gone, but
we want the US and Britain to leave too,' said Ali, a young man who refused
to assist US troops with crowd control for fear of 'upsetting my mother.'
Yaseer, a young man in southern Baghdad, stood along a railroad track that
had been recently ripped out and carried off, along with another 30 men and
boys, smiling and laughing. When I asked him what he thought of Saddam, he
responded, 'He is a great man.'
'Then why are you happy being out here with American troops?' I asked him.
'Because there were bad men working under Saddam, but Saddam is a very good
man,' he said.
Yaseer said he thought that Saddam was great 'because he controls the
people. The Iraqi people are very bad. They need to be controlled.'
Interestingly, Iraqi civilians seemed to have no fear of American forces.
'They see us as economic saviors, not as rulers,' said US airman Allen
Lefko. 'They are already beginning to separate fact from fiction. They see
we are not ten-foot-tall storm troopers come to shoot them,' he said. 'Let's
just hope they will be able to accept the truth about Saddam just as
easily,' he added.
At the same time, many Iraqis expressed distaste for the British. While some
unfurled British Union Jacks to welcome the US troops into their
neighborhoods, others called out, 'No England, only America.'
Khader said, 'England will stay here, America will go.'
Iraqi civilians had countless questions for the US troops. While they
expressed a vague curiosity about their new government, they were keen to
restore electrical power, which was turned off last week. Then, too,
civilians repeatedly asked when humanitarian aid would arrive as government
hospitals were reportedly closed.
'We are all Fedayeen,' a voice in one crowd called out. The US forces waved
back and smiled.
For their part, the troops were cautiously sympathetic to the civilians.
'They seemed happy to see us,' said Cmdr. Rob Smith of a Sunni Muslim
neighborhood in southern Baghdad his company had taken over. 'And yet they
only started to really approach us after we blew up an armored personnel
carrier that had been hidden beneath a tarp.'
Saddam's remaining forces in the capital are largely in hiding. On Wednesday
morning, the 4-64 Armored Battalion from the 2nd Brigade, now located in
north-central Baghdad, was attacked by small-arms fire and RPGs fired from
within a mosque.
The Iraqis, according to US military sources, are unable to organize beyond
the company level. US forces believe terrorist attacks are now their largest
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.